Watertown is a city in the State of New York and the county seat of Jefferson County. It is situated near the Canadian border and the Thousand Islands. As of the 2000 census, it had a population of 26,705. The U.S. Army base Fort Drum is near the city.
Named after the many falls located on the Black River, the city developed early in the 19th century as a manufacturing center. From years of generating industrial wealth, in the early 20th century the city was said to have more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation. Residents of Watertown built a rich public and private architectural legacy. It is the smallest city to have a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the celebrated landscape architect who created Central Park in New York City.
Geographically, Watertown is located in the central part of Jefferson County. It lies 72.0 miles north of Syracuse, New York and 31 miles south of the Canadian border. The city is served by Watertown International Airport.
The city is known as the birthplace of the "Five and Dime" and the safety pin. It manufactured the first portable steam engine. It has the longest continually operating county fair in the United States and holds the Red and Black football franchise, the oldest surviving semi-professional team in the United States.
The drop in the Black River at Watertown's location provided abundant water power for early industry. By the mid-19th century, entrepreneurs had built paper mills and major industries, including the first portable steam engine in 1847. In 1851 the city was joined to the state by the railroad. Other mills rapidly joined the business base and generated revenue to support public works projects like the water system and illuminating gas works in 1853, and a telephone system in 1879.
As businesses flourished, residents built ambitious retail buildings, churches and private residences. The Paddock Arcade, built in 1850 according to European and US models, is the oldest continuously operating enclosed mall in the United States. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as are several significant churches and private mansions.
Watertown became the county seat of Jefferson County, New York in 1805 and an Incorporated Village in 1816. In 1869, Watertown was incorporated as a city. In 1920, the city adopted a city manager style of government. The Jefferson County Courthouse Complex is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
An early industrial city that earned great wealth for many of its citizens by the turn of the 20th century, Watertown also developed an educated professional class of doctors and lawyers. As industrial technology shifted and jobs changed, Watertown suffered economic and population declines. The city has been working in recent decades to redevelop its downtown and capitalize on its rich architectural heritage, compact downtown and well-designed residential areas.
Today the city serves as the commercial and financial center for a large rural area. It is the major community closest to Fort Drum and the post's large population. Since the city is located just 25 miles from the international boundary via the Thousand Islands Bridge, shopping by Canadian visitors is an important part of the local economy.
In August 2006, Watertown made minor national news when Reverend Timothy LaBouf of First Baptist Church of Watertown, N.Y., then a city councilman, fired Mary Lambert, his church's Sunday School teacher of 54 years, for being a woman. LaBouf cited as reason a change in church policy to interpret literally the first epistle to Timothy: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent." Mayor Jeffrey Graham was disturbed by this action and said: "If what's said in that letter reflects the councilman's views, those are disturbing remarks in this day and age." Timothy LaBouf and other leaders of First Baptist Church of Watertown were rebuked for this decision by several other Christian leaders, such as J.Lee Grady
Watertown gained national attention when Watertown native and supermodel, Maggie Rizer, filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Mayor Graham and several other defendants. Rizer's stepfather, John Breen, Jr. had pirated as much as $7,000,000 from Rizer's financial accounts so he could play the state-sponsored game, Quick Draw, at several taverns - most notably Mayor Graham's bar, which was then named Speak Easy. (It is now Fort Pearl.) Breen was convicted and sent to prison on several felony counts. Mayor Graham was forced to give up his lottery license. This story was featured on a May 2005 episode of ABC's news magazine 20/20.
The Black River flows westward through the city toward Lake Ontario. The Black River is a world-renowned kayaking destination. Competition-level kayaking events, such as the Blackwater Challenge, have been held on the river.
By tradition, the city's name was derived from the abundant water power available from the river. Businesses harnessed water power to create one of the early industrial centers in New York. Paper mills were historically a major industry for the city and contributed to its 19th c. wealth.
Jefferson Community College (JCC) is located in the western part of the city near the fairgrounds.
There were 11,036 households out of which 31.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.7% were married couples living together, 14.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.1% were non-families. 34.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.32 and the average family size was 2.99.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.9% under the age of 18, 10.4% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 18.5% from 45 to 64, and 15.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 90.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,429, and the median income for a family was $36,115. Males had a median income of $31,068 versus $21,294 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,354. About 14.4% of families and 19.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.2% of those under age 18 and 11.8% of those age 65 or over.
One US Highway runs through the Greater Watertown area:
The three major AM radio stations hosted in Watertown are: AM 790 - WTNY, news/talk; AM 1240 - WATN, talk; and AM 1410 - WNER, which is a sports station. The city's FM stations consist of: FM 88.9 - WSLJ, NPR; FM 90.9 - WJNY, classical; FM 93.3 - WCIZ, classic hits; FM 97.5 - WFRY, country (Froggy); FM 100.7 - WOTT, rock; FM 103.1 - WTOJ, light adult contemporary; and FM 106.7 - WBDR, Pop.
Watertown television stations include WWNY/WNYF, (CBS 7/Fox 28, cable 4 and 2), WPBS (16 Watertown, 18 Norwood, cable 850, 851, 853) and WWTI (ABC 50/The CW 50.2, cable 5 and 31). Kingston and Syracuse locals are also significantly viewed in Watertown. Time-Warner is the incumbent cable provider for the Watertown area; DirectTV and Dish Network satellite are also readily available but neither currently carries Watertown's local broadcast stations.
The Staten Island Yankees were based in Watertown until 1999.
Watertown was the setting for the 1990 Bette Midler film "Stella". While the movie was actually filmed in Canada, several local items were imported to appear in the film, including the local daily newspaper, taxi-cabs and shopping bags from the locally owned Empsalls department store.
Little Trees air fresheners were invented in Watertown in 1951. Now the city is home to the Car-Freshner Corporation headquarters and manufacturing plant.
Harry Chapin made a famous quote -- "I spent a week there one afternoon" -- about Watertown. His song "A Better Place to Be" was inspired by a story he heard in Watertown. Chapin mentioned both the quote and the origin of the song on his album Greatest Stories Live.